[R] Do you use R for data manipulation?

John Kane jrkrideau at yahoo.ca
Wed May 6 15:42:45 CEST 2009

--- On Wed, 5/6/09, Farrel Buchinsky <fjbuch at gmail.com> wrote:

> Is R an appropriate tool for data
> manipulation and data reshaping and data
> organizing? I think so but someone who recently joined our
> group thinks not.

I only do small scale projects and am by no means a programmer. Isn't Perl something for earings?

That said, I find R to be extremely useful at data manipulation and have used it exclusively in my last three projects.  The different data structures alone are worth their weight in gold, if for nothing else than making it harder to make stupid mistakes in coding. 

> The new recruit believes that python or another language is
> a far better tool for developing data manipulation scripts that can be
> then used by> several members of our research group. Her assessment is
> that R is useful> only when it comes to data analysis and working with
> statistical models.

Any reason that she thinks this?  How well does she know R?  It is not exactly a language that one picks up in a week, especially if one is coming from using a stats package like SAS or SPSS. As an ex-SAS and SYSTAT user it took me weeks to just get comfortable with the power of subscripting and the ability to do all kinds of calculations "in-line".

> So what do you think:
> 1)R is a phenomenally powerful and flexible tool and since you are going > to do analyses in R you might as well use it to read data in and merge 
> it and reshape it to whatever you need.

Definately. I am not a computer scientist or a statistician. I usually am working as a single contractor and normally with small datasets as part of a larger project.  R does what I want, usually very elegantly (albeit perhaps after a lot of headbanging and calls for help to the R-list) and it would be stupid for me to use more than one language when it is not needed.  

Another plus is that I can  easily leave my data analysis work and a working copy of R with the client.  He/she may have a problem seeing what I did but it is clearly readable & replicable by either the client or another consultant.

> OR
> 2) Are you crazy? Nobody in their right mind uses R to pipe
> the data around their lab and assemble it for analysis.

Well I don't work in a lab but why complicate things? If everyone is using the same tools then you have a good situation.  Others who do work in labs can address this point more cogently 

>From a personnel point of view do you expect everyone in the lab to be proficient with R and, for example, Perl? What happens when/if you lose your Perl expert(s)?  I've had occasions where I waited a week for data simply because the division's MS Access "expert" was on holiday and the only other "Access" person there only knew how to enter data and run the monthly reports.  Anything more complicated required the "expert".

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